During the past decade, consumers are becoming increasingly more positive toward ecological and ethical attitudes offered by means of eco-labels, reduced food waste, and fair trade (Mazar & Zhong, 2010). Consumer choice may, in this sense, reflect values and beliefs that wish for a transformation of consumption toward the more sustainable. When consumers engage in shopping, service, such as care for our planet, constitute an important value aside from the physical offering. Research shows that by choosing green offerings customers are sending altruistic signals, associated with status, allowing them to feel better (Griskevicious et al., 2012). Thus, these types of green purchases enable several service-related outcomes attractive for consumers and society.
Somewhat surprisingly, real-time sales data, collected in a large and market leading grocery store in Sweden, reveal that only 20 % of the customers actually chose eco-labeled offerings on behalf of a non-labeled competitive brand. Thus, green attitudes seem to not equal green behavior. An important question therefore regard how society can change consumers to behave, i.e. choose, more environment-friendly products in line with their attitudes (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Drawing from this question, our research examines the effectiveness whereby different influence strategies (Cialdini, 2009) affect consumers to choose environment-friendly products on behalf of similar but competing products without label. According to the service-dominant logic, retail stores offer resources that can be integrated into a service (Vargo et al., 2010). Current directions within service management label this type of research as transformative (Anderson et al., 2013).
In a field experiment, front-line employees were instructed to verbally use four different influence strategies when customers approached a fruit desk where bananas of ecological and regular brands where displayed. See table 1 for treatments and their respective theoretical background regarding influence strategy.
“many customers are currently buying eco-labeled bananas right now”
Social proof (Cialdini, 2009)
“our eco-labeled bananas are situated right next to our employee standing there”
Signaling (Griskevicious et al, 2012)
“you seem interested in eco-labeled products – you can find them here”
Labelling (Tybout & Yalch, 1980)
“our eco-labeled bananas are priced no higher than any competing brands without label”
Price (Thaler, 1985)
The results clearly show the impact of the influence strategies. First of all, in a control group, the mere presence of a front-line employee informing about the different banana alternatives doubled the proportion (from 20 to 40%, p<.01) of choices in favor of eco-labeled bananas. Secondly, the strategies social proof (from 40 to 65%, p<.01) and signaling (from 40 to 68%, p<.01) further raised the proportions approximately 15%. Lastly the influence strategies price (from 66 to 76%, p<.03) and labeling (from 66 to 76%, p<.04) made yet another 10% chose eco-labeled bananas.
In sum, our research is promising viewed in light of encouraging behavioral change to create a more sustainable society.